It’s National Running Day in the US, and even though I have mixed feelings about “minor” holidays like this (I just read on Facebook that it is also apparently National Hug Your Cat Day – maybe you should run and hug your cat), I figured there would be no better day than today for a quickie blog post on the do’s and don’ts of running road races in Barranquilla.
I have run five road races in Quilla since I moved here almost two years ago. That’s not a high number (hey, I did run a 26.2mi/42k during that timeframe, albeit in Argentina!), but it’s enough to learn a few things about how these events happen here. If you plan to run a road race in Barranquilla, know someone who does, or simply want to be prepared for variances in races place-to-place, these tips are for you!
1. The listed start time is… what’s the word?… aspirational.
Do not – I repeat – do NOT arrive at your race an hour early, or even a few minutes early. Trust me on this one. If you’ve run road races in the US, I know you’ll be tempted to show up early, worried about road closures and parking and bathrooms. Here in Barranquilla, when you pick up your kit the day before the race, you may even be told that you MUST arrive an hour to an hour and a half early (hello, Bodytech 10K!). Do NOT do this. Instead, hop in a taxi fifteen to twenty minutes before the race’s listed start time and meander toward the start at the hour the race is supposed to begin. If you are lucky, it will start some twenty minutes after the listed start time. If you are unlucky, it will begin more than an hour later. Woe to you if you got up at 5:00 a.m. for a 7:00 a.m. race. That is just way too much sleep to lose. Enjoy the extra snooze and don’t stress getting there ahead of time.
2. The groups and categories listed on that registration you filled out mean next-to-nothing at the starting line.
As with most road races in the US, when you register you’ll be asked to state your gender and age, and to put yourself in a category. Here in Barranquilla, I don’t think I’ve ever seen those categories based on actual times (e.g., what’s your average 10K race time?). They’re usually based on gender and age, and sometimes on whether you consider yourself elite, competitive, or recreational. At some races, runners will be asked over a loudspeaker to line up by category. In my experience, EVERYONE ignores this, and there’s nothing like color-coded numbers or wristbands to guide the process. As a result, crossing the starting line is sort of like entering Walmart on Black Friday. At the Marymount Glow 5K this past weekend, fast runners were stumbling around walkers, packs of giggling teenagers paused to Instagram each other, and moms and dads pulled their kids by the hand. It’s a wonder we all survive.
3. The bathroom situation is not a top priority.
This past November, before the Barranquilla 10K, one of Barranquilla’s biggest races, I couldn’t find any port-a-potty or restroom at all. Maybe they were there somewhere, but the Parque Electrificadora is not that big, so I don’t think I missed them. Thankfully, after the race, I spotted four (count ‘em, four!). Maybe the porta-potty delivery guys also saw the race start time as a suggestion. Anyway, just make sure you go before you leave home. This, combined with tip #1 about not getting there ahead of time, should save you from any, um, issues.
4. A loudspeaker-led, music-driven coordinated “warm up” will occur before the race begins.
This is part of the reason the start time is aspirational. Maybe they do this now in the US too – I’m not sure – but here there are alternately, or sometimes concurrently, bands, aerobic instructors, dance troupes, and personal trainers who take the stage to lead the runners in a bizarre combination of Zumba, floor aerobics, and that P.E. class you remember from the 1980’s. (Did I just date myself?) Depending on how you feel about very loud music, especially if it’s 6:00 a.m. (don’t blame me if you are waiting impatiently because you failed to heed tip #1) you may or may not like this aspect. But it’s definitely a phenomenom.
5. The priority is fun.
Even more so than in the US, these events are often group activities. Since my running buddy (yes, I will name names! Scott!) moved away, I’ve gone to quite a few of these by myself and I seriously think I am one of the only people there alone. People come with their families, gym buddies, office mates, boyfriends/girlfriends, etc. And they have a blast. Some races here don’t have timing chips and don’t time you at all unless you put yourself in an elite class. Since I am overly competitive and like to know how I measure up even if I’ll never win, those aren’t my favorites. But still, it’s all a reminder (for the “recreational” runners among us) to take these events a little less seriously and maybe have a little more fun.
Happy National Running Day from Colombia! Enjoy!